By Joshua Price/Special to the Messenger
West End High School has a rich history of athletics. From football to basketball to baseball to track and field to volleyball, the Patriots have found much success over the past 53 years, including a number of county, area and state championships.
Before West End formed in 1966, two high schools existed in the western part of Etowah County – Altoona and Walnut Grove.
The Altoona Choctaws, who wore red and white, and the Walnut Grove Tigers, who wore blue and white, combined to form the West End Patrioits.
Along with Walnut Grove, Gaston, Glencoe, Hokes Bluff, Sardis and Southside high schools, Altoona was categorized as a “Little Seven” school. These schools were the smaller schools in Etowah County and were classified as either 1A or 2A, respectively. Because of low student enrollment, Altoona High was closed in the summer of 1966 and the students were sent to Walnut Grove High School the following fall.
Altoona High was a well-respected athletic school. Choctaw stars such as Wilburn Davenport, Bill Nichols, Roy Hethcox, and Billy Ray Hyde, along with coaches Ray Campbell, Ben Perkins, and Charles Brown, contributed to a highly successful decade of athletics from the mid-1950s through the final school year of 1965-66.
Perhaps the most successful athletic time period at Altoona were the years during which Bruce McAfee competed.
McAfee excelled in all three boys’ sports offered at Altoona, including football, basketball and baseball. He ranks as one of the most decorated athletes in the athletic history of West End, Altoona and Walnut Grove high schools.
If one word could describe Bruce McAfee, it is “winner.” McAfee earned All-Etowah County football honors in 1961, 1962 and 1963. As a senior, he was named to the All-State first team. McAfee was selected to the annual North/South All-Star team as a senior defensive end. As a basketball player, he was named All-County three years, All-District two years and County MVP one year. McAfee also broke the school’s scoring record for total points and earned All-County honors in baseball for three years.
Altoona’s athletic program found much success during McAfee’s years. The Choctaws won 25 games in football during his three years as a starter, including a 10-0 season in 1962 during which the Choctaws posted nine shutouts and surrendered only seven points the entire season, which was a last-minute touchdown by Southside against the Altoona’s reserves.
McAfee, along with classmate Ernie Hutchens, led the Choctaw basketball team to consecutive Etowah County championships and consecutive state playoff berths. The 1964 Etowah County Tournament was the last of the “true” county tournaments, which included the “Big Three” and “Little Seven” schools in the same tournament. McAfee was named MVP of the 1964 tournament after netting 26 points against Emma Sansom.
Despite having no proper baseball uniforms and having to wear their football uniforms instead, Altoona dominated the Etowah County baseball tournament in 1962. McAfee pitched a complete game and had two RBI in the Choctaw’s 2-1 victory over Emma Sansom in the championship game. McAfee’s sixth inning triple proved to be the game-winning hit, and the sophomore was named the tournament’s MVP.
During the spring of 1964, McAfee was awarded the prestigious Foot-Skeen Award given to the top student-athlete in Etowah County. McAfee was considered to be one of the top football players in the state during his senior year at Altoona and signed a football scholarship to Auburn University, where he found success at both defensive and offensive end. He was also one of the top punters on the team. McAfee was a starter on offense before the 1965 season but was removed due to a severe ankle injury just days before the opener.
McAfee completed his education at Auburn and graduated in 1968. He was hired by Principal J.D. Webb at Susan Moore High School in Blount County in the summer of that year as assistant football coach to head coach Larry “Pod” Patterson and also as the school’s head varsity boys basketball coach.
From 1968-1990 and 2002, McAfee’s basketball teams won six Blount County Tournament championships, nine area tournament championships, three regional championships and one state finals appearance. McAfee’s 341 wins as head basketball coach stands as the single most in the history of Blount County high school basketball.
McAfee served as head football coach at Susan Moore from 1989-1993. He finished with a record of 36-20 with two area championships and four playoff berths. McAfee also served as the school’s head varsity baseball coach, winning a pair of county championships and three area championships and making three playoff appearances in four seasons.
McAfee served as the head varsity coach in football, basketball and baseball at Susan Moore during the 1989-90 school year.
After stepping down from coaching in 1994, McAfee served as school principal. After his retirement, he served as a school board member and also as president of the board of education. McAfee was inducted into the Blount County Sports Hall of Fame in 2018 for his contributions to the Susan Moore school and community. McAfee passed away in October of 2018 after a four-year battle with cancer.
McAfee’s sports career at Altoona earned him the reputation as being one of the most successful high school athletes to every wear a uniform in Etowah County. Without a doubt, McAfee is a worthy candidate for induction into the Etowah County Sports Hall of Fame.
Among many things in his life, Bruce McAfee was a gentleman. He was loved and respected by his community and returned those sentiments. He was a humble man in every aspect of his life and always attributed his success to the people around him – players, coaches and family. He is sorely missed but remembered by all who knew him.
Editor’s note: Joshua Price is a graduate of West End High School and current teacher and head baseball coach at Susan Moore High School.